... God is a Person
we begin to grasp this
simplest concept, — that God is a Person
— much of what we think, say, and do will very likely
change, and even more likely, it will change for
the better. We will begin to lose our fear not simply
of what to say to Him, and how,
but we will begin to open ourselves to genuine intimacy
many ways, God is very simple. Even in the way of
the most abstruse theological speculation, God,
in the end, is utter simplicity.1 We
nevertheless tend to make a tremendous complexity
of God. We do not do this intentionally, of course,
but it is rather a very human reflex before our
perception of God as utterly transcendent,
as Other, — even while we acknowledge
His immanence in the most ordinary things that surround
us, and to some degree define our being, things
that are part and parcel of our existence as "mere
God, as we have said, is a Person. But God is also
a particular kind of Person, eminently
possessed of an attribute that we can (at
least some of us) understand very clearly.
is a Father. Because there are so many
miserable failures in human fatherhood, even an
astonishing lack of what should most clearly articulate
our understanding of fatherhood — love
— we have put God rather at a disadvantage. Understanding
Him as "Father" means, to many of us, perfunctory
role playing, indifference, aloofness, even disregard
or what is worse, abandonment. This is the reality
of fatherhood in modern life, the reality in which
father is sundered from child, rather than bound
indefeasibly to the child. In a word, fatherhood
as absentee, if not in fact, then in disposition.
Our fathers are a rather sad lot, in many ways emasculated
of their fatherhood by an inordinate deference
to feminism to which many men readily submit
because it is easier to be irresponsible than responsible.
When the promotion of one gender through the
social dissolution of the other has become a matter
of policy and politic, we are left with a caricature
of fatherhood, a nominal token of a reality collapsing
under the weight of the fiction of its own superfluity.
On the other hand, it is equally the case that the
realpolitik of feminism is in many ways an
opportunistic response to the autonomous default
of men, of themselves, upon their fatherhood. In
how many, many families is the woman the one who
remains with the children when the father leaves
in pursuit, most often, of his own selfish and often
largely libidinous interests?
Small wonder that God has suffered as a result of
men – and so have we! Through the neglect of men,
and the doctrinaire exploitation of militant feminists,
we have been implicitly deprived of God Himself,
of understanding the love of God as Father.
So deep is this wound caused by men through their
failures as fathers, that God Himself has come to
acquire the odor of complicity, and we end up with
such superficial nonsense as "God the Mother" –
as though the mere nominal exchange of parental
beneficence and liability will eradicate the breach.
In the end, such exchanges are embarrassingly trivial
and only testify to the fact that our understanding
not only of God, but of the notion of father
and mother has become acutely superficial.
While this plays a significant role in our inability
to relate to God, it is, at least fundamentally,
an aside to the far deeper issue of our inability
to apprehend God as a Person, and until we grasp
God as a Person, He will forever appear distant,
remote, inexorably transcendent to us.
Unable to relate to God as a Person, we approach
Him not as child to parent, but as practitioners
through ritual. As totally "Other" (and
with few reliable exemplars in our lives) we fall
back on atavistic tendencies that preceded the revelation
of the True God, Who revealed the Father, in the
In this sense, we are no different from the Philistines
or Canaanites who attempted to placate a largely
irascible god basically inimical to men, or at the
very least poorly disposed toward them. In our own
way, we offer up meaningless and repetitive gestures,
as so many obsessive-compulsives, in an effort not
so much to relate to, as to appease this distant
god bent on either toying with us or destroying
us. We build, as it were, our own fires and heap
the calves of our vicarious sacrifices upon them,
splash blood upon hot stones, divide animal entrails,
utter endlessly repetitive prayers, and do things
that would be stultifying to mere mortals, but which
we oddly deem to be palatable and pleasing to God
... at least a god who is not a person.
If we were God ... and we are not!
for a moment, that someone prevailed upon you –
a person – for a certain favor. Let us further suppose
that you were favorably disposed toward this person;
in fact, that you loved her and cared deeply about
her well-being. In your wisdom, and were it in your
power, you would not simply "relent" and accede
to her request; you would immediately and gladly
grant it. Bis dat, cito dat. He gives twice
who gives quickly. While the mechanism involved
in bringing this about may of necessity preclude
its being enacted instantly, it nevertheless remains
that the petitioner is satisfied that the request
was well received and even in the asking was in
the act of being granted. After all, the "person"
upon whom she prevailed, loved her, and she knew
it. Depending on the nature and the urgency of the
request, she may grow impatient, and even be moved
to ask again — to remind you, as it were,
of its exigency, although all the while you had
never lost sight of it. You understand this, and
assure her that you have not forgotten, and that,
in fact, things were well underway to satisfy her
request. It is, in effect, a reciprocal act of trust.
She trusts that you will help, and you trust that
she acknowledges this, that is to say, that she
acknowledges, recognizes, your goodness, your love,
your willingness and your ability to help her and
your faithfulness to your word. She walks away,
grateful, and you are happily about bringing her
affairs to a satisfactory conclusion.
does that. It is deeply radicated in trust. There
is nothing of force, constraint, reluctance, no
quid pro quo, bargaining or balancing scales.
In a word, love is autonomous. Acting ex meru
motu, of its own free impetus that not simply
coincides with, but is intrinsic to love, it is
inherently responsive. It need not be induced,
"My ways are not your ways",
God tells us, so I do not know if God gets bored.
Being just men we would likely be bored to tears,
and perhaps even moved to annoyance, were we ourselves
subjected to an endless repetition of words uttered
by rote, largely empty of meaning and keenly focused
on number – the magical number that will tip the
scales in favor of the petitioner, despite the possibility
of any disinclination on our part. They did the
numbers, now we must do the deed.
is God as a Wall Street Trader. As a computer model.
Not as a Person.
admonishes us against this in Mathhew 6.7-8,"And
when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens.
For they think that in their much speaking they
may be heard. Be not you therefore like to
them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for
you, before you ask him."
is not to disdain repetitive prayer; it is an admonishment
against meaningless prayer, many or few. The Holy
Rosary is an eminent example. As mechanical prayer
it is meaningless, however many decades uttered,
no matter how pious the deportment, no matter how
deep the conviction that sheer numbers culminate
in anything more than a cipher.
from the heart, a single decade is a treasure trove
When we talk to God we deprive Him of Personality
when we speak with Him in a way other than we would
speak to one whom we love dearly and who loves us
dearly in turn. Think about it. We say Grace before
our meals with a perfunctory Sign of the Cross and
a petition mumbled in greater haste than ever we
would speak to the person seated next to us. In
fact, were we to talk to other persons,
as we often talk to the Person, God, we would be
summarily dismissed as rude and scolded for speaking
meaninglessly. Were we then to utter the same thing
again and again and in a ritualistic monotone, attentive
to all else but our words, our host would surely
leave in a haste only exceeded by our words. Were
we to thank our hosts for the meal in the way we
thank God for it, it is unlikely that we would be
Pharisees lost the Person of God in the rigor of
the Law ... until the Law superseded God, and then
As a result of our inability to apprehend God as
a Person, a real Person, we have come to
approach Him not as persons ourselves through love,
but as mere practitioners through empty ritual.
There is nothing wrong with ritual per se;
it is, it ought to be, the outward vestibule of
inward realities — it can be, and should be, holy,
and it is holy when the gestures of the outward
rite accord with an inner and deeper reality of
which they are genuine, and spontaneous signs.
There is consonance between appearances and
realities. Nothing is superfluous, nothing
extraneous. And this can only be attained through
a deep perception of the presence of a Person before
Whom one stands, Who is the Reality concealed
behind the appearance.
Once you recognize the Personality of God —
God as a Person
— your prayers will cease being soliloquies,
meaningless mantras. Not only will you pray to God;
you will speak with Him!
You will also come to understand the difference
between the all in little and the nothing in much.
divinae bonitatis invenitur in uno simplici"
– the perfection of divine goodness is found in
one simple thing – Summa Theologica, Part
I, Q.3 art. 7.2
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal